Headline: an RSS/newsreader for Mac
July 16th, 2009 by ravi

Every year MacHeist offers tightwads an opportunity to score a lot of software for the Mac for next to nothing. One of the applications made available this year was an interesting new RSS/newsfeed reader for the Mac called Headline which retails for $19.95.

At a time when NewsGator has let loose NetNewsWire (not just the Lite version) for free, and was quickly followed suit by NewsFire — and the brilliant Vienna has always been free — is it possible to make a go of selling an RSS reader for ~ $20? Aren’t desktop clients passe in this new age of web applications (in this instance, Google Reader)?

Well, Doseido, the makers of Headline, think so, and I wish them the best. They are not alone in this game. There’s NewsLife, Endo, and other optimists as well. Does Headline deliver $20 worth of goods?

The problem for Headline, as already noted, is what it is up against. In a different world, $20 seems a fair price for a useful piece of software. But not in a world where NetNewsWire is free, not to mention a whole other universe of AIR apps like the amazingly slick if CPU hungry Snackr.

What is worse, Headline, despite its very pleasing and useful pop-out preview, sorely lacks certain simple features, which makes for constant irritation, given its natural use as a news alert tool. What I mean by that is that Headline’s ability to pop-up as a small window, as and when new articles are available, and provide short previews, makes it a good tool for “as it happens” alerts. This is the one differentiator that makes Headline interesting to me. But for such usage to be productive, Headline needs:

  • Open article in background: if Headline pops up 15 new articles, you need the ability to scan through them, opening ones on you want to read in detail in your browser, but doing so in the background, so you can continue scanning the headlines. Unfortunately this is not possible. This could be a limitation of the mechanism for invocation of the browser (Safari, in my case), but the experience is annoying.
  • Choose and act on a range of headlines: say you scan through the list and want to mark a bunch of articles as read. Or even hide them altogether from your view. That’s not easily done. In order to mark an article read, you have to visit the item in the list and stay on it for a second or more (perhaps an understandable precaution to avoid marking something as read just because you “arrow”ed over it). And to hide read articles, you have to trick the app by selecting a different option for the filter (top left) and then selecting “Unread”. Your only other resort is to “Mark all as Read” (Command-Option-R).
  • Other issues: if the apps refresh kicks in while you are on an item, the screen scrolls to newer items and the one you were reading disappears in the list (though its preview remains in the preview pop out). Headline also seems to get confused when my laptop is alternated between monitors with different screen resolutions.

Headline is an interesting idea and a beautiful implementation (aesthetically speaking). But the limitations of its UI make the cost questionable. If all you need is a pop-up alert for updated news feeds, you can consider the free tool FeedPopper. If you would like something a bit more detailed and fancy, you can bite the CPU bullet and consider Snackr. For most use cases, NetNewsWire will most likely do the trick.

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